Ex-prison officer charged in death of psychiatric patient in New Hampshire

Matthew Millar (Courtesy photograph)

Matthew Millar (Courtesy photograph)

By CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN

Concord Monitor

Published: 02-09-2024 5:22 PM

A former corrections officer was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in the April 29, 2023, death of a former Hanover man in the Secure Psychiatric Unit of the New Hampshire State Prison.

The officer, Matthew Millar, 39, of Boscawen, N.H., knelt on the neck and torso of Jason Rothe, 50, “for several minutes while Mr. Rothe was handcuffed and faced down on the floor,” according to the Attorney General’s Office.

Millar and five other officers used force to try to remove Rothe from a “day room” in the psychiatric unit after he refused to leave willingly, the affidavit states. By kneeling on his limbs and using Tasers, multiple officers were able to restrain and handcuff Rothe. The officers stood up and backed away — except Millar, who remained kneeling on Rothe’s upper back and neck, “with all his weight,” one officer described in an interview with investigators. Though Rothe had stopped resisting and did not speak, Millar did not remove his weight — nor did anyone urge him to — until a stretcher arrived, investigators said.

Officers did not discover that Rothe was not breathing until after he had been moved onto the stretcher and into another room, according to the affidavit, when life-saving measures were then initiated by officers, including Millar, and a prison nurse.

Rothe was pronounced dead at Concord Hospital less than an hour later. An October 2023 autopsy ruled his death a homicide by “combined traumatic (compressional) and positional asphyxiation,” according to the attorney general’s office.

All of the officers involved had received specialized training on how to restrain someone without obstructing their airway.

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Millar’s actions violate both that training and the Department of Corrections’ use-of-force protocols, according to the attorney general’s office and New Hampshire State Police, which investigated Rothe’s death.

Millar was arrested and arraigned Thursday. He is being held without bail.

A 1996 engagement announcement for a Jason O. Rothe published in the Valley News says he attended Hanover High.

A 2017 story by WGME in Maine reported that a 44-year-old Jason Rothe had barricaded himself inside an estranged girlfriend’s home in Hancock, Maine. At the time, he was out on bail following an earlier incident in which he had been arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct and terrorizing after allegedly threatening to kill a Hancock County sheriff’s deputy.

“I personally extend my sympathies to the family and loved ones of Mr. Rothe. The allegations released today are reprehensible and do not align with my expectations of staff, nor do they align to the Department’s mission and responsibilities,” Department of Corrections Commissioner Helen Hanks said. “Staff that act outside of the ethical and statutorily prescribed standards of our profession must be held accountable for their actions. I will be unrelenting in holding staff to the high standards expected of them by myself, their peers, the public and the law.”

Hanks outlined the department’s response since the incident. Millar was terminated in December of last year, and, after an initial internal review cleared other officers who were placed on administrative leave, they returned to duty. “Based on new information made available to the department today,” Hanks initiated another internal review and placed the officers back on leave.

“Limited video footage exists of the incident,” because of obstructions in the line-of-sight in security footage and because a handheld camera that was supposed to film the use of force, per department police, was accidentally disabled, the affidavit describes. The Department of Corrections began a “department-wide body-worn camera project” in the psychiatric unit in July 2023, according to its statement.

“The charge in this incident represents allegations against one specific individual. It should in no way be taken as a reflection on the behavior or overall professionalism of the hardworking men and women at the New Hampshire Department of Corrections, particularly those who provide care and security to patients at the Secure Psychiatric Unit,” state Attorney General John Formella said.

No other officers are expected to be charged.